Every generation has had to deal with bullying in some form or another. It is nothing new—however, the mechanisms through which it happens have evolved. To quote a report from Richard Donegan of Elon University in North Carolina (2012): “Bullying has been engrained in American society since the country’s founding. Bred from a capitalistic economy and competitive social hierarchy, bullying has remained a relevant issue through the years. Technological bullying, known today as cyberbullying, has allowed the problem to expand, become more elusive and become even harder to define”1. Further, legislation and the various instruments of law enforcement have yet to fully catch up with the trends of cybercrime—bullying, in particular.
I grew up in a time when there was one phone in the home and cell phones were cool gadgets seen only in Back to the Future III. If I received a phone call, I had to sit on a stool in the kitchen and my whole family could hear my end of the conversation. I didn’t even hold a cell phone in my hand until I was in high school. The Internet was not nearly as popular and ever-present in everyday life like it is today. In fact, I mainly used a computer for research on school assignments and even then, the computer didn’t enter my childhood home until I was at least 12 or 13-years-old. Card catalogs at the library were often how my generation “researched” sources for homework. When I was a teenager, social media was synonymous with photo albums and/or a shoebox full of handwritten notes that were passed back and forth in the hallways. Now, life without the assistance of Google’s search bar, a smart phone or social media, seems unreal. Statistically, most of us have adapted and are active participants with the trends of the times in one way or another…
Social media is a phenomenon that has altered the way human beings interact. Jessica Kennedy, who won a research essay contest on the topic of the intersection between adolescent interaction and technology with particular emphasis on the shift that has occurred from offline to online social interaction, said:
“The rapid diffusion of technology through all areas of life has revolutionized the traditional setting for social participation. This is particularly true for those branded Generation Z, who consider a world of smartphones, iPads and high-speed wireless broadband as a necessity, removed from the restrictions of a landline or a traditional Internet connection... The positive effects of the Internet on broadening social circles and maintaining existing connections arose as a key theme [in her research]. According to the participants, socializing, event organization, gossiping, fighting and ‘hanging out’ all takes place in the social platforms provided through the Internet. The findings suggest that the Internet has depersonalized the process of interpersonal communication making it more acceptable to converse with individuals who may not belong in your offline social circle. This form of socialization represents a modern change in the processes by which relationships are initiated and constructed.”2
I think most of us can agree on the pros and cons of social networking sites. They have the potential to serve as a constructive tool to collaborate or reach out to friends and family that live both near and far—and for every reason that social media is a positive platform for interaction, there are deeply concerning and often significant drawbacks—particularly for the younger generations. Sadly, for many adolescents (and adults, for that matter) self-esteem and self-worth is often attached to the amount of “likes” received on a comment or photo. That being said, among the most impactful drawbacks of social media and 24/7 access to the Internet is cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying involves the use of different technology, such as cell phones or the Internet, and impacts adolescents, teens and adults on a daily basis. These portals can be used to harass, bully and intimidate another person. Cyberbullying can take on the form of:
- Posting demeaning or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages.
- Sending mean or threatening messages to a person’s email account or cell phone.
- Spreading rumors online or via mass text messages.
- Hacking into a person’s social media account and sending damaging messages.
- Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person (a.k.a. catfishing).
- Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet.
- Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about another person.3
Cyber bullying, much like more traditional forms of bullying, can be very destructive. It can lead to forms of anxiety and PTSD, depression, and, suicide. Unfortunately, you can research “cyberbullying and suicide” to find the names and cases where bullying has led to the death of a victim of cybercrime. Moreover, once damaging photographs and comments are strewn across the Internet, they exist indefinitely in cyberspace with a strong likelihood that they will reappear over and over again.
The permanent mental effects of cyberbullying are what both the law and various prevention programs are striving to eliminate. These issues have become matters of pressing public concern due to the fact that initial emotional responses to bullying have been proven to escalate to the point of suicidal thoughts and violent responses.4 It is extremely concerning that people get so caught up in the psychological battery of bullying that they commit suicide. The legislative and judicial branches at both the state and federal levels are having a difficult time adapting laws to encompass cyberbullying as technology advances – but there is assurance in the fact that the issue is a top priority.5 In conclusion, the future generations of future generations of people with careers in criminology will be at the forefront of addressing emerging crime trends like cybercrime and cyberbullying.
Tips on how to avoid being a victim of cyberbullying…some of these may seem obvious but take them for what they are worth:
- Educate yourself (and your family) on bullying and its psychological impacts.
- If you are a victim of cyberbullying—don’t be afraid to unplug.
- Do NOT accept friend requests from individuals who you do not know or have not met in person.
- If you are receiving harassing messages or comments to your social media accounts or cell phone—DELETE or BLOCK that individual but SAVE those harassing text messages, online postings, etc. as they may serve as potential evidence.
- Monitor your privacy settings to ensure that your information is only visible to your network.
- Most important: Think hard before you post something for all of cyberspace to see! Once it is on the Internet—it is likely accessible to more people than you might think.
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1Donegan, R. (Spring 2013) “Bullying and Cyber-bullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis”. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/eweb/academics/communications/research/vol3no1/04DoneganEJSpring12.pdf
2Kennedy, J. (December 2012). A Shift from Online to Offline: Adolescence, the Internet and Social Participation. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/undergraduate-awards/a-shift-from-online-to-of_b_4431523.html
3N.A. (2014). Bullying Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
4Donegan, R. (Spring 2013) “Bullying and Cyber-bullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis”. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/eweb/academics/communications/research/vol3no1/04DoneganEJSpring12.pdf
5Donegan, R. (Spring 2013) “Bullying and Cyber-bullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis”. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/eweb/academics/communications/research/vol3no1/04DoneganEJSpring12.pdf